Monday, May 01, 2006

Go see Akeelah and the Bee

Go See Akeelah and the Bee


“Akeelah and the Bee is an inspirational tale about an African American girl in Los Angeles who competes in a spelling bee. Starbucks is promoting the movie in places such as the sleeves of its coffee cups, and the ‘Akeelah’ soundtrack is on sale at the stores. The DVD of the movie will be on sale at Starbucks this fall. Howard Schultz, the company's chairman, said that after promoting ‘Akeelah’ Starbucks was deluged with material from film distributors that hope to be its next film partner. It became clear, he said, that the company needed more expertise in handling that work. He said it was not Starbucks' goal to become an entertainment-business investor, although the company's promotion of ‘Akeelah’ gave it an undisclosed equity stake in that film... The movie took in $6.25 million over the weekend at 2,195 theaters, an average of just $2,847 a screen, according to Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box-office sales. It was No. 8 among movies for the weekend, behind offerings such as the Robin Williams comedy ‘RV’ ; the teenage drama ‘Stick It’; and the harrowing Sept. 11 drama ‘United 93.’ ” Starbucks steps further into movies. By SHARON WAXMAN THE NEW YORK TIMES

This past Friday my wife and I went to the movies to see Akeelah and the Bee, after seeing trailers for the picture. I was pleasantly surprised at the finished product. The motion picture stars Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and KeKe Palmer in a positive (by Hollywood standards) film about an eleven year old African-American girl from a working class background in Los Southern Angeles. Akeelah, who has an enjoyment for spelling, doesn’t want to be seen as smart by her peers. But she is pressured by her middle school principal into entering the school’s inaugural spelling bee and wins. The principal Mr Welch (played by Curtis Armstrong) who is white invites his long time friend and former college roommate played by Laurence Fishburne a university professor to attend and watch the Spelling Bee. Fishburne’s character, Professor Larabee, sees Akeelah Anderson win and immediately challenges her to spell several very difficult words which she does. Professor Larabee finally stumps her with a word and Akeelah leaves the room disheartened despite the fact she won the spelling bee which she didn’t want to enter in the first place. Because Akeelah won her school’s Spelling Bee she automatically qualifies for the regional round where she wins because another student and his mother are caught cheating, thus opening a finalist spot for her. Akeelah decides to go for the next prize a run for the national Spelling Bee. She asks Professor Larabee to coach her. He reluctantly agrees after admonishing her it will not be easy and that she must not to use “ghetto slang” around him, saying she must cut her attitude and be on time for all their sessions.
While there are several Hollywood stereotypes in the film: Akeelah comes from a single parent home (her father was killed during a drive by shooting), her older, unwed, living at home sister has a baby, her oldest brother is in the Air Force, wants to be a pilot, her older brother is being recruited by a local gang and her mother is totally oblivious to Akeelah’s love of words due to working long hours and trying to keep her son from being a gang- banger, there are some unique twists and turns that make the movie very enjoyable. Professor Larabee actually lives in the black community not far from Akeelah, once she starts winning the whole community gets behind Akeelah and helps her prepared for the National Spelling Bee. KeKe Palmer gives an outstanding performance as the precocious youngster as she brings a degree of realism to her scenes and conveys so much and commands so much presence; just with a look she actually dominates the film in an understated way. The film offers character development which allows the audience to learn something about the main characters and we see Akeelah’s transformation from a shy and unsure student into a confident, strong willed yet sympathetic competitor. During the course of the film we see her mother played by Angela Bassett, older brother, Professor Larabee and even Akeelah’s main competitor for the title grow and change for the better because of Akeelah’s determination and compassion. As in real life, Akeelah is one of the few African-American students to participate in the National Spelling Bee, a fact which galvanizes her schoolmates and community to support her in her quest.
Interestingly, Starbucks the coffee company which has in recent years diversified into entertainment, helped finance the film which may explain it’s family orientation; along with the fact Laurence Fishburne, a fairly conscious brother, was one of the producers. While it didn’t rack up huge numbers its first weekend out, the film ranked eighth earning almost two million dollars. We need to support films like this. So if you are tired of the computer generated images, special effects, explosions, chase scenes, horror films, shoot um up, dummy me down, crass and grossness envelop pushing films Hollywood is foisting upon the seemingly undiscriminating masses, and you genuinely yearn for quality entertainment see Akeelah and the Bee. If you just want to see a good movie with positive images of black people, see Akeelah and the Bee.

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